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Tagged with "5/6/2018"
"Faith Is the Victory"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 5/6/2018
I John 5:1-6
“Faith Is the Victory”
May 6, 2018
 
 
            World conquest isn’t something I have thought much about since the occasional Saturday afternoons I spent playing “Risk” when I was in high school.  In fact, we tend to make fun of anyone who gets it into their head.  Maybe you never saw the cartoon series “Pinky and the Brain”, where the typical opening showed two mice, Pinky and the Brain, sitting around and Pinky says, “Gee, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?” and the Brain answers, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky.  Try to take over the world.”  Of course, his schemes always go off course in a big way.
 
            The Romans, on the other hand, at least those who have left a record of themselves, took the idea of world conquest seriously.  The Emperor Augustus, who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, left behind a summary of his accomplishments where, like any good megalomaniac, he refers to himself in the third person and as a god.  It begins,
 
“Below is a copy of the achievements of the deified Augustus whereby he subjected the world to the empire of the Roman people, and of the expenditures he made on behalf of the country and the Roman people.”[1]
 
He speaks very highly of himself.  He notes,
 
“I often waged wars on land and sea, both civil and foreign, in the whole world, and as victor I spared all the citizens who asked pardon.  Those foreign people who could safely be pardoned I preferred to preserve rather than exterminate.”[2]
 
I guess he was just a big softy inside.  I’ll spare you the endless recitation of his honors and achievements, the list of offices he held and buildings he put up, and how many times the Senate sent him a vote of thanks.  I only want to emphasize the difference between the official and public outlook of the Romans and the thought of the upstart Christians, whose views and attitudes the Romans and their successors have never been able to comprehend.
 
            Christianity even means something different when it speaks of “the world”.  To Augustus, conquering the world meant expanding his territory. 
 
“I enlarged the territory of all the provinces of the Roman people that neighbored upon people that were not subject to our empire. …At my order and under my auspices two armies were led almost at the same time into Ethiopia and Arabia… I annexed Egypt to the empire of the Roman people.”[3]
 
To the Christians, “the world”, as John wrote about it in his letters to the believers, was not a geographical term but referred to a mindset and the actions that flow from it, the mindset and deeds of people like Augustus and his successors, but also anyone who gets caught up in the cycle of power games and pride.  The poet William Butler Yeats spoke of
 
“The noisy set of schoolmasters, bankers, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.”[4]
 
John’s notion of success was not the same as Caesar’s.  In fact, to John, success meant finding a way out of that endless cycle and stepping away from the game of gimme-gimme, I-me-mine.
 
            He wasn’t alone in that.  Christians in general saw that to be puffed-up and jealous and ego-driven set the course for great troubles.  Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote to the Church, which has never been immune to the world’s ways:
 
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?  Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” [James 4:1-2]
 
How many arguments and even fights, maybe, have you seen because somebody who is eager to let everyone else know how important they are comes up against someone else who is just as self-important?  How much time and money and energy are wasted in a group where everybody has to do everybody else one better?
 
            But if your worth is not connected to things of no ultimate value, if your success is not measured by the clothes you wear or whom you know or where you vacation or how often your name is spoken, or anything like that, then you have begun to step outside the arena where the silly and dangerous games are being fought.  In fact, if your dignity and honor are tied not to what you’ve done but to what God has done for you, then you are in a good place.  If you have placed your entire trust in Jesus, so that you know your place in the universe and in eternity is secure, then you don’t need to play any of those games at all, and the amazing thing is that means you win.
 
“And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” [I John 5:4-5]
 
            I learned a lot from people I have worked with while they were in prison.  Some had learned to use a kind of religious slang to describe themselves, and that was never very convincing.  Others, though, would tell their stories with real conviction (pun intended), able to say what it was within themselves that had drawn them into trouble, and they would say it not in a way that sounded like an excuse, but that was more of an explanation.  It wasn’t: “I stabbed the guy because I was on drugs and not thinking clearly,” but more like, “I thought I could get away from my pain by using the drugs, and next thing I knew, I was inflicting my pain on everyone around me.”  Then they would say how they had found someone whose love and caring was able to address the deepest hurts, and his name was Jesus.  And sometimes the group would start singing,
 
“What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!”
 
And there would be a time of prayer, of course.  Then at the end, somebody would start a little song that’s really a great song,
 
                        “for whatever is born of God conquers the world.” [I John 5:4]
 
The song says,
 
“In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus,
We have the victory.
In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus,
Demons will have to flee.
Tell me, who can stand before us
When we call on that great name?
Jesus, Jesus, blessed Jesus,
We have the victory.”

 

 

[1] Augustus, “Res Gestae” in Meyer Reinhold, The Golden Age of Augustus (Sarasota: Samuel Stevens & Co., 1978), 92-93.

[2] Ibid., 93.

[3] Ibid., 99-100.

[4] from “Adam’s Curse”.

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